Since its creation in 1976, the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has purposely been a bi-partisan, non-political committee. It was specifically designed to minimize the partisanship among Republicans and Democrats, to function as a check on the executive branch's substantial powers of surveillance and intelligence gathering, and to ensure that consideration of the national security of this nation was not done in a politicized atmosphere -- but, rather, with only the best interests of the entire nation in mind.
The balance of the Committee is essential to maintaining this apolitical oversight.
But President Bush doesn't want the Senate to do its job and provide oversight of his illegal use of the NSA for domestic spying without a warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Despite applying substantial behind-the-scenes pressure, there are Republicans on the Intel Committee who put the nation's interest ahead of Karl Rove's dictates, and it looks as though the vote scheduled for March 7 will lead to oversight hearings of this illegal NSA mess. (An enormous thank you to everyone who has participated in our Roots project -- you have made such a HUGE difference.)
Except for one thing: Bill Frist has decided if they can't win on the merits, then he'll cheat. Frist threatened Harry Reid, in a letter delivered late on Friday, that he would change the composition of the Intel Committee unless they rubber stamped the Bush Administration's repeated illegal activity.
Guess Frist was hoping reporters would miss his smarmy threat of cheating if he dumped it in the late Friday news cycle...too bad for him, Glenn Greenwald caught it.
Frist specifically threatened that if the Committee holds NSA hearings, he will fundamentally change the 30-year-old structure and operation of the Senate Intelligence Committee so as to make it like every other Committee, i.e., controlled and dominated by Republicans to advance and rubber-stamp the White House’s agenda rather than exercise meaningful and nonpartisan oversight.This truly is an unprecedented move: the Senate Majority Leader is threatening to make the Intelligence Committee a political rubber stamp because the White House and the Republican leadership are so terrified that the President's actions won't withstand scrutiny and will be found illegal by the Committee.
Yet again, Republicans are threatening to radically change long-standing rules for how our government operates all because they cannot manipulate the result they want. From redistricting games to changing the filibuster rules, when Republicans are incapable (even with their majorities) of manipulating the political result they want, they use their majority status to change how our government works in order to ensure the desired political outcome.
While Frist’s threat here is, in one sense, of a piece with those tactics, it is actually quite extraordinary and motivated by a particularly corrupt objective. The whole purpose of the Senate Intelligence Committee – the only reason why it exists – is to exercise oversight over controversial intelligence activities. Whatever else one might want to say about the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, it is controversial on every front. There is no conceivable rationale for the Intelligence Committee not to hold hearings.
Bill Frist is nothing but a cheater, who is trying to rig the Committee -- a majority of whose members WANT to provide oversight and actually DO their jobs. This is the single most craven, pathetic and weak move -- the fact that the interests of the nation would be served by an oversight hearing takes a back-seat to Karl Rove's marching orders that George Bush's authority not be questioned. Ever.
Because how dare the American public deserve honest answers, and how dare the United States Senators want to exercise their responsibilities to provide real, meaningful oversight rather than just be a rubber stamp -- even in the face of real, honest questions of illegality.
What, exactly, does Bill Frist and the rest of the Republican leadership think their job is as Senators? I mean, honestly: what is your purpose as a separate branch of government, if not to provide checks and balances through meaningful oversight, on important issues like violations of law and an end-run of Constitutional principles on top in addition to your legislative duties? Why are my tax dollars paying your salary, funding your cushy health insurance, paying your substantial retirement plan -- if you aren't going to bother to do your whole job?
What a bunch of frightened babies huddling in the corner of the Senate, taking orders from Karl Rove and hoping it will all blow over before the elections in the Fall. That Bill Frist would have to resort to cheating to protect the President's flank is just pitiful. That he thinks the American public will just swallow it whole, though, is wrong. Dead wrong.
I'm asking you to take some time today to e-mail, fax, or call your Senators. And to also contact members of the media. Inform them exactly what Bill Frist is trying to do and that you see this tactic for what it is -- cheating -- and that you will not stand for it. If Frist thought he could dump this out with the Friday trash and no one would notice, he thought wrong. Let's make sure he doesn't get away with this tactic.
I have not been able to find one piece of reporting in the corporate media about this today. Let's hang the cheater sign around Bill Frist and George Bush's neck. Please, take some time to call a talk radio show in your area, send out a fax or an e-mail -- anything -- between now and March 7th when the Intelligence Committee votes. The only way the Republican leadership gets away with this is if we all sit back and passively let them do it.
I refuse to let that happen. Bill Frist and George Bush are cowardly cheaters -- and it's time to hold them accountable.
(Painting entitled "Cheater with the Ace of Diamond" by Georges de la Tour.)
UPDATE: Georgia10 has more at DKos.
"Operate like most Senate Committees" is code for "controlled by rubber-stamp Republicans and no minority rights." Frist is threatening that if the Democrats demand the President be held accountable for breaking the law, then he'll just change the law to silence them. Typical Republican maneuver, to be sure, but the frequency of the tactic doesn't diminish its repulsiveness.Georgia10 has some links to Sunday shows, including the Chris Matthews show (which I think is pre-taped on Fridays, but I'm not certain on this -- maybe a reader knows for sure and can let us know in the comments). In any case, please take some time to contact all Senators -- not just the ones on the Intel Committee, but all of them. Your Senators should know that you will not tolerate partisan cheating just so George Bush can continue to illegally spy on Americans without anyone questioning his authority.
NOTE: I made an error regarding Committee composition, which has been corrected above -- it's an equalization by the rules, and not the numbers on the Committee. Glenn has a great post on this. Thanks to reader Anonymous for the heads up on this -- I was so pissed off this morning, I didn't do my usual research re-check before posting.